The orchestra was first created in Warsaw as the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, in 1935. It was founded by Grzegorz Fitelberg, who led the orchestra until September 1939. In 1945, the orchestra was reactivated in Katowice. Its first post-war conductor was Witold Rowicki, who left in 1947 and was replaced by Grzegorz Fitelberg. After the latter’s death in 1953, the orchestra was directed by Jan Krenz, and subsequently Bohdan Wodiczko, Kazimierz Kord, Tadeusz Strugała, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Stanisław Wisłocki, Jacek Kaspszyk (twice), Antoni Wit, and Gabriel Chmura. Since 2012, the artistic director and principal conductor is Alexander Liebreich. Presently, the orchestra’s patrons form an impressive group of Polish conductors: the PNRSO’s principal guest conductor is Stanisław Skrowaczewski, honorary conductor – Jan Krenz, and artistic advisor – Jerzy Semkow.
Over time, the orchestra changed names, first appearing in Warsaw as the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (1935-1939), later in Katowice as the Great Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio (1947-1968), later as the Great Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio and Television (1968-1994), then momentarily returned to the name Great Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio (1994-1999), finally gaining the status of a national orchestra in 1999.
The orchestra’s connections with Witold Lutosławski are varied and of specially long duration. It is in June 1939 that the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Grzegorz Fitelberg gave the premiere of his Symphonic Variations – a work Lutosławski considered to be his factual, compositional debut. After the war, also under Fitelberg’s direction, the orchestra gave the first performances of his Symphony no. 1 (April 6, 1948), Little Suite (in the version for symphony orchestra, April 20, 1951) and Silesian Triptych (December 2, 1951). Under Jan Krez’s baton, the orchestra first presented Funeral Music (March 26, 1958) and the orchestral version of Five Songs to Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna’s Poems (September 22, 1960). In later years, when the best orchestras of the world appeared in premieres of Lutosławski’s symphonic works, which they commissioned, the PNRSO frequently presented these work’s first Polish performances – either under the composer’s baton (e.g. the performance of the entire Symphony no. 2, June 9, 1967), or that of its current directors (e.g. Antoni Wit in the case of the Symphony no. 4 – May 23, 1993).
Witold Lutosławski wrote a special text devoted to his ties with the orchestra for its 30th anniversary. He reminisced that the orchestra musicians’ protest during work on the Symphony no. 1, brought under control by Grzegorz Fitelberg was a brute awakening for him; "however, with later years, what had been upleasant largely faded away. Today I can say with much joy and pride that what I experienced from the part of our wonderful radio orchestra were expressions of sincerity, solidarity, and recognition, which I greatly cherish. I owe many wonderful experiences to the Great Symphony of the Polish Radio and Television", and later enumerates event such as the premiere of Funeral Music, collaborative work on his compositions, and his monograph concert with the orchestra in 1971 at the festival in Graz.
The orchestra has in its repertoire all orchestral works by Witold Lutosławski, and recorded them many times on phonograph releases. The catalogue of EMI and Polskie Nagrania includes a range of recordings with the composer conducting the orchestra. Under the direction of Antoni Wit in turn, the orchestra recorded all orchestral works by Witold Lutosławski. Notable performers on nine releases with the orchestra include: Olga Pasiecznik, Andrzej Bauer, Piotr Paleczny, Krzysztof Bąkowski, and the choir Camerata Silesia.
On February 9, 2014, at the festival Chain 11 in Warsaw, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice received the Year of Lutosławski Medal for its outstanding contribution to the dissemination of the composer’s heritage.